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Digital barbiturate is coming for your practice & looking to take patient lives

By October 19, 2021February 16th, 2024No Comments

The Department of Homeland Security has sounded an alarm about a new type of malicious software called killware.

In an interview with USA Today, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas revealed that cybercriminals had started launching cyberattacks against the US with the sole intent of harming people. The DHS boss continued by indicating that successful killware attacks could have dire consequences to US citizens, including loss of life. The motive behind the attacks was also determined to be purely based on malicious intent, and unlike ransomware attacks which cybercriminals launch with the goal of extorting money, the DHS determined that killware attackers never asked for monetary compensation.

Recent largescale killware attacks

In the interview, the DHS narrated about a recent killware attack on a Florida water treatment plant. According to Mayorkas, the attackers behind the Oldsmar, Florida water system launched the attack purely to harm humans by providing residents of the area with tainted water.

Had this attack been successful, the residents of Oldsmar, Florida would have gotten tainted water estimated to have been fatal in some cases. Fortunately, the attack was foiled before the tainted water could reach residents’ homes, averting a crisis that would have led to loss of lives.

Mayorkas continued by indicating that killware attacks were increasing in frequency and gravity, terming the new attacks as a priority for cybersecurity experts.

To date, only a few ransomware attacks had resulted in the loss of life, including recent instances such as the death of an Alabama Infant in 2019, when Springhill Medical Center in Mobile, Ala was under a ransomware attack during the birth of Nicko Silar, resulting in disruption of services in the facility, and ultimately the death of a newborn. In 2018, a ransomware attack in Cologne, Germany, resulted in hospitals turning away patients, resulting in the death of at least one patient.

The increasing threat of cyberattacks on human life

 In the last year alone, there has been a sharp increase in the number of cyberattacks targeted at hospitals and other vital infrastructure that has directly resulted in people being harmed as a result of these attacks.

Cyberattacks aimed at hospitals, for instance, have resulted in patients being kept longer, delays in medical tests, surgeries and procedures and an increase in patients deaths due to disruption of the day-to-day running of hospitals.

Threats posed by killware attacks on veterinary practices

 The idea of loss of lives due to computer system compromise has long been relegated to movie scripts and science fiction works. However, in recent years, that threat is increasingly becoming a reality, with the emergence of a new type of criminals who are purely motivated to cause damages.

As highlighted by the DHS, if the attack on Oldsmar, Florida water plant had succeeded, lives would have been lost.

For veterinary practices, however, killware presents a new type of problem that can result in the loss of lives of animals. Cybercriminals involved in killware attacks have been shown to not be motivated by money, and hence, they are most likely to target even small and medium-sized veterinary practices if they thought it would lead to damages and loss of lives of animals.

Killware also poses legal challenges for veterinary practices who, in the future, may come under attack from such malware. The question of who needs to be held accountable in case of a loss of life resulting from a killware attack has also divided opinions of many cybersecurity experts, and with the latest DHS warning about future killware attacks, veterinary practices that fall victims to killware attacks will be getting into uncharted waters, with no possibility of knowing how these attacks will impact their practices.

Killware attacks are also hard to track where they are coming from and can be launched by foreign states and non-state entities such as cybercriminals groups, making it harder to have a well-structured response to attacks.

Future killware attacks on veterinary practices on veterinary practices will also be more complicated. According to a September 2020 Gartner study, practice owners can no longer claim ignorance in case of a cyberattack, with 75 percent of practice owners predicted by the study to be eligible for liability in cases where computer compromises lead to physical harm.

Killware attacks are an emerging issue, and although ransomware attacks have dominated our newsfeed for the last couple of years, DHS indicated that killware attacks are projected to increase in coming years, and the impact will have severe consequences on the well-being of many people and animals. For now, however, veterinary practices have to be vigilant in thwarting any attacks directed at them by ensuring they are updated with the latest cybersecurity threats they may face. Practice owners should also consider cybersecurity experts for their practices to prepare and detect killware attacks early, just like Oldsmar, Florida water plant did, possibly saving hundreds of lives.

One way to prevent these attacks in your hospital……

Is to have a proper cyber security plan in place, including protections and data backups ie business continuity. If you want to learn how to start protecting your hospital from potential Killware attacks schedule your call today!


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